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Tom Catena

Tom Catena
Tom Catena in Yerevan 04.jpg
Tom Catena visiting Yerevan to receive the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. Catena giving speech "Gratitude in action" at Yerevan State Medical University, May 2017
EducationDuke University (MD)[1]
Brown University (AB, Sc.D)[2]
OccupationMedical doctor, surgeon
Medical career
InstitutionsMother of Mercy Hospital

Thomas (Tom) Catena is an American physician who has been practising in Gidel in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan since 2008.[3][1][4] On May 28, 2017 he was awarded the second annual Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, receiving a $100,000 grant and an additional one million dollars for him to distribute to three humanitarian organizations.[5] He has been likened to the 20th-century medical missionary Albert Schweitzer.[2] The New York Times has published instructions on how to donate to Catena.[6]

Early life and education

Born in Amsterdam, New York, into an Italian-American family, Catena grew up with six brothers and sisters.

Catena graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Brown University in 1986.[7] While at Brown, Catena played nose guard on the football team.[8] He received his medical degree from Duke University,[1] on a U.S. Navy scholarship.[9]


During his fourth year at Duke that Catena went on his first mission to Kenya.[2] After graduating, he completed an internship at the Naval Medical Center San Diego in 1993 and later joined the U.S. Navy. For the next four years, he served as a flight surgeon. After his discharge from the Navy in 1999, Catena began a postgraduate residency in family medicine at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana, while also participating in medical mission trips to Guyana and Honduras.[10]

When he finished his residency in 1999, Catena decided to continue volunteering with the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) and spent two years at Our Lady of Lourdes Mutomo Hospital in the rural settlement of Mutomo, Kenya. From 2001 until 2017, he volunteered at the private St Mary’s Mission Hospital in Nairobi.[4]

Activities in Sudan

With CMMB, Catena volunteered to help the Roman Catholic Diocese of El Obeid establish the Mother of Mercy Hospital in the Nuba Mountains in 2007.[11] The region has been an area of active conflict since early 2011,[12] and Catena is the only surgeon for the surrounding population of 750,000 people.[13] The hospital's catchment area covers roughly one third of South Kordofan, equivalent in size to the entire country of Austria.[14] Patients frequently travel by foot or hitchhiking for up to a week to reach the Mother of Mercy Hospital. At any one time it has between 300–350 in-patients. Patients visit the hospital for ailments varying from fractures, diarrhea, thyroid disease and cancer but also an increasing number of victims of bombing attacks or malnourishment spurred on by the war.[1][12][14]

An abandoned village in the Nuba Mountains from the previous civil war. Villagers would move up in the mountains to avoid the militias.

Humanitarian aid is restricted, a ban which Catena defies.[13] Very few NGOs still operate due to the Khartoum government's blockade.[1] Since 2012 aid is not expressly forbidden, but it is in practice impossible as volunteers may not travel into the region.[1] German Emergency Doctors and Samaritan's Purse had a presence as of 2013, but employed no trained medical doctors in the region.[1] Limited by his surroundings,[15] Catena sometimes uses decades-old treatments, and earns $350 a month while being on call 24/7.[16] He engages the local community in the work as nurses and other assistive personnel.[1][2]

The Mother of Mercy Hospital was subject to bombings by Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jets operated by the Sudanese Air Force in May 2014,[17] although at the time no one was injured.[14][1] In preparation in case of bombings the compound now has a number of foxholes where patients and staff can flee for the duration.[14]

Catena credits his Catholic faith for his work, and says he is inspired by St. Francis of Assisi.[1][16] He is known by locals as "Dr. Tom" and is widely respected by the population. A local Muslim chief said of Catena, "He's Jesus Christ", owing to Catena constantly healing the sick, helping the lame walk, and making the blind see.[16]


Personal life

Since May 2016, Catena has been married to his wife Nasima, a nurse.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bartholet, Jeffrey. "Doctor in a Desperate Land". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d Morton, Gordon (March 14, 2013). "Man on a Mission". Brown School of Engineering. Brown Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  3. ^ "Hospital in Nuba Mountains losing nurses to INGOs in Yida". Radio Tamazuj. Archived from the original on 3 July 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  4. ^ a b Knaup, Horand. "Africa's Forgotten War: The Bloody, Invisible Battle for South Kordofan". Spiegel Online International. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  5. ^ Matthew Ponsford (June 1, 2017), Quit dithering, says last doctor in Sudan's Nuba mountains Reuters.
  6. ^ Nicholas Kristof (27 June 2015) How to Help Dr. Tom Catena The New York Times.
  7. ^ Dr. Tom Catena Sudan Relief Fund.
  8. ^ Tom Catena: Man on a mission. [1]
  9. ^ Dr. Tom Catena Sudan Relief Fund.
  10. ^ Dr. Tom Catena Sudan Relief Fund.
  11. ^ Dr. Tom Catena Sudan Relief Fund.
  12. ^ a b Reeves, Eric. "Reeves". Sudan Reeves. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  13. ^ a b Tom Catena TIME Magazine. The 100 most influential people. Accessed 29 June 2015.
  14. ^ a b c d Bartholet, Jeffrey. "Q&A: Doctor Describes How Sudanese Bombers Terrorized Hospital". National Geographic. National Geographic. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  15. ^ Maeve McClenaghan and Tracy McVeigh (May 20, 2012), Conflict in Nuba mountains may lead to devastating epidemics, say doctors The Guardian.
  16. ^ a b c Nicholas Kristof (27 June 2015) 'He’s Jesus Christ' The New York Times.
  17. ^ Jason Straziuso (May 5, 2014), US doctor: Sudan dropped 11 bombs near hospital The San Diego Union-Tribune.
  19. ^ Brown awards eight honorary doctorates. [2]
  20. ^ Tom Catena, MD Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB).
  21. ^ Transcript of CNN NEWSROOM, Aired March 28, 2018 - 02:00 ET CNN